My friend, the independent journalist, Doug Vaughan wrote me this apt criticism of my previous post on "Using a God for Politics" here:
“As editors used to tell reporters in the newspaper biz, ‘you buried your lead’ -- the blood-curdling calls by rabbis (of all people!) to genocide with citation to biblical authority are far more important and urgent a matter for you to bring to the attention of any reader, even the Straussified specialists, than the arcane deconstruction of Strauss with which you begin, even if his words justified or inspired theirs, especially when they retreat behind the rationalization of an alleged atavistic urge of their enemies to turn the clock back to a messianic mohammedan crusade against infidels and a return to mythical 6th century sharia, as if that justified an equally homicidal tribal god's curse on the enemy's children. If these military rabbis' words were known to more Jews in the US, would they be so supportive of Israeli occupation and expansion in the name of a still-covert call to Haaretz Israel?”
Long before and especially after Gaza, many Jews are wrenched by doubts about the occupation, or as in my case, fierce opposition. I came to write about this material largely thinking about Strauss, probably because the rabbis’ words burn the page. That the government of Israel gives money to Yitzhak Shapira’s Yeshiva, as Haaretz shows, reveals what that government is – and was under previous administrations – in respect to innocents in the occupied territories. The movement in Israel to restore the worst in the Torah and the Old Testament against the modern age mirrors, just as Doug notes, Osama Bin Laden’s bloody, ahistorical dreams of a purged califate (the historical califates pioneered toleration of other “peoples of the Book,” Jews and Catholics).
Here again is the section of my post with the citations from Haaretz citing spiritual advisors to the Israeli Defense Forces and rabbis the circulation of whose pamphlets the army tolerates or encourages:
Breaking the Silence notes the role of rabbis in the army. These are not decent rabbis, Abraham Heschels, who honor the human spirit. These are fanatics with a vision of God, a la Strauss, commanding them to rid the land of Zion of gentiles.
Some are official military figures like Brigadier General Avichai Rontski. Others are authors of pamphlets circulated in the military. The army weekly journal Barnahane has praised the role of such rabbis.* Haaretz has recently been running articles featuring what these rabbis say. For instance, Yitzhak Shapira says in Gaza “it is just to kill gentile babies” – those of Palestinians - to expand illegal settlements. Shapira says that killing babies is permissible “because their presence assists murder, and there is reason to harm children if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us.” That carries pre-emption a bit farther than Cheney, though perhaps in the spirit of 1% doctrine (if there is a 1% chance that an enemy will attack the United States in 20 years, take that enemy out now!). The rabbi continues: “it is permissible to harm the children of a leader in order to stop him from acting evilly.” And John Yoo stands before us, saying how in exercising “commander-in-chief power,” Bush might order crushing the testicles of a terrorist’s child in order to get “information.”**
Another pamphlet, Haaretz mentions, written by rabbi Shlomo Aviner (not to be confused with the wonderful political theorist of almost the same name) said: “A comparison is possible because the Philistines of the past were not natives and had invaded from a foreign land [he is speaking of the Palestinians who lived in Palestine when Jews were settling]…They invaded the Land of Israel, a land that did not belong to them and claimed political ownership over our country. Today the problem is the same. The Palestinians claim they deserve a state here, when in reality there was never a Palestinian or Arab state within the borders of our country. Moreover, most of them are new and came here close to the time of the War of Independence.”
…Brigadier-General Avichai Rontzki, the leading rabbi in the IDF stated that those who “show mercy” toward the enemy in wartime will be “damned.” Soldiers must preserve themselves at all costs, including butchering civilians (or with Shamir, children). Rontzi says this inspires fighting spirit (Yiddishkeit) in Israeli “soldiers.”*** But the soldiers in Breaking the Silence were repelled. The 68 high school students who face jail for refusing to serve in the occupied territories were repelled. Perhaps one may speak of Rontzki’s “zeal,” but only if those who carried out pogroms had such a spirit…
In contrast, on October 12, 2009, Barek Ravid reported in Haaretz that the government is taking action against one rabbi who urges soldiers to mutiny on receiving orders to remove settlers:
“Yeshiva head refuses to attend hearing
Meanwhile, the head of the Har Bracha Yeshiva informed Defense Minister Ehud Barak last night that he does not intend to attend a hearing on ousting his yeshiva from the hesder program, which combines Torah study and army service.
Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi had recommended ousting the yeshiva due to the extremist statements made by its director, Rabbi Elizer Melamed which included urging soldiers to disobey orders to evacuate settlements. Barak said on Tuesday that he planned to adopt this recommendation, but would allow Melamed to contest this decision at a hearing first."
The occupation is the sea, this a bobbing cork.
* Amos Harel, "IDF rabbinate publication during Gaza war: we will show no mercy on the cruel," Haaretz, January 26, 2009
**Akiva Eldar, “Who is funding the rabbi who endorses killing gentile babies,” Haaretz, November 17, 2009. The article is on government financing of Shapira’s yeshiva.
***Anshel Pfeffer, "IDF Chief Rabbi: Troops who show mercy to the enemy will be 'damned," Haaretz, November 15, 2009.